an artificial intelligence illustration on the wall

DAILY DOSE: ‘Golden Era’ of cancer treatment in the UK saved over a million lives; AI hallucinations is a real and growing problem.

Cancer Research UK reports that over the past 40 years, advancements in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment have saved over a million lives in the UK, reducing death rates by about a quarter. This “golden era” of progress has resulted in major leaps, with the analysis showing 1.2 million fewer deaths than if rates had remained constant since the mid-1980s. Key advancements include enhanced radiotherapy, better screening programs, new drug developments, and genetic discoveries. One beneficiary, Alan Sugden, emphasized the impact of innovative treatments. He joined a trial that provided chemotherapy before and after surgery, differing from the standard post-surgery-only treatment, leading to a more effective tumor removal. Thanks to this, Sugden returned to golfing and witnessed his grandchildren’s growth.

However, not all cancer types have seen equal progress, and women haven’t benefited as much as men. Challenges in the NHS may hinder future advancements. Despite the significant strides, concerns persist due to extended waiting times causing distress for patients. The charity’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, underlined the significance of research and expressed concerns about ongoing challenges. Meanwhile, Prof. Jean Abraham from Cambridge emphasized the swift advancements in personalized treatments and genome sequencing but stressed the need for continued research. (The Guardian)

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Once valued near $2 billion, London telehealth startup Babylon Health has collapsed. After its U.S. shares were rendered worthless and operations became insolvent, its U.K. branch has gone into administration. Most of its assets were acquired by eMed Healthcare UK, a subsidiary of U.S. firm eMed. This acquisition includes a telehealth service serving around 700,000 U.K. users. The app GP at Hand, powered by Babylon, remains operational and was not part of the sale. Babylon’s move to the U.S. market was shadowed by concerns about its practices in the U.K. Despite initial successes, by 2022, the company lost significant contracts, and by 2023, sought a buyer. An acquisition deal with Swiss health tech startup MindMaze and shareholder AlbaCore failed, leading to Babylon’s U.S. business declaring insolvency. The U.K. operations were close to bankruptcy before eMed’s acquisition. eMed, previously a startup itself, specializes in telehealth services and was mainly acquired by Cedara Software in 2022. Concerns remain about eMed’s ability to profit from a business that struggled under Babylon. (TechChrunch)

An artificial intelligence (AI) system has been developed to predict how compounds smell by analyzing their molecular structures. The AI’s descriptions often match those of trained human experts. Researchers utilized this AI to catalog odors, creating a guidebook that could assist in designing synthetic scents and shed light on how humans perceive smells. The direct pathway from the nose to the brain’s emotional and memory centers is why smells can evoke powerful memories. The AI, a type of neural network, categorized approximately 5,000 odorants using 55 descriptors. This resulted in a principal odor map (POM) that identified relationships between chemical structures and their associated smells. In testing, the AI’s predictions closely aligned with human responses. Though seen as an advancement in machine learning, it does not yet elucidate the intricate biology of the human sense of smell. Experts believe the challenge ahead lies in predicting the combined scent of mixed molecules, as our sense of smell often perceives complex mixtures of hundreds of odorants. (Nature)

Diego Fonseca struggled with a college math placement test, primarily due to gaps in algebra knowledge from remote learning during high school. He represents a wider problem facing colleges, as students arrive with significant gaps in math skills due to pandemic disruptions. Many engineering and biology majors at universities are struggling with basic concepts. Math scores on the NAEP test saw substantial drops, and recovery has been slow. At George Mason University, they initiated a Math Boot Camp to address these gaps. Other colleges are also grappling with increased numbers of students lacking foundational skills. Math’s hands-on nature made virtual learning challenging, and gaps in foundational knowledge have been pronounced. Remedial measures being adopted include deeper placement tests, summer camps, “corequisite” classes, and peer tutoring. Active learning is being emphasized to engage students better. Fonseca, after attending the math camp, placed into calculus at a community college, reflecting the potential of remedial interventions. (Associated Press)

Artificial intelligence tools, such as ChatGPT, have gained popularity for their human-like responses. However, they sometimes provide inaccurate information, a phenomenon termed as “hallucinations” or “confabulations” by experts. These inaccuracies arise from the AI’s design to generate plausible-sounding responses, not necessarily factual ones. Comparing AI outputs to a child’s imaginative storytelling, experts emphasize the lack of inherent truth. Jevin West notes that AI’s confident delivery makes it difficult for users to discern fact from fiction. High-profile errors have emerged from AI tools, like Google’s Bard providing incorrect telescope data and ChatGPT inventing legal cases. Although addressing hallucinations might stifle AI’s creative capabilities, the potential misinformation in crucial areas like health and voting raises concerns. The intricate and sensitive nature of large AI models complicates the process of rectifying these hallucinations. Companies acknowledge the issue, with predictions suggesting substantial improvements in addressing hallucinations within the next couple of years. However, users are cautioned about wholly trusting AI outputs. (CNN)

In August 2023, the U.S. media spotlighted two events linked to extremism, prompting debates on social media’s role in radicalization. While many accuse platforms like YouTube of using algorithms to boost extremist ideologies, recent research offers a nuanced view. A study by Annie Y. Chen shows that while YouTube’s algorithms rarely recommend extremist content, users often access it through other extremist sites. Despite YouTube’s post-2019 efforts to reduce extremist content visibility, the platform’s influence on radicalization remains undeniable. As social media platforms evolve, understanding their role in spreading extremist ideologies is crucial. Continued vigilance is necessary to ensure digital spaces are free from hate speech, harassment, and harmful conspiracies. (Science)

In 2013, seal ecologist Fernando Elorriaga-Verplancken discovered Guadalupe fur seals on San Benito Island with unusual yellow patches due to hair loss. This is concerning, as such loss affects their insulation in cold waters. This phenomenon of hair loss, or alopecia, has been increasing in marine mammals globally, impacting species like fur seals and polar bears. Potential causes such as parasites and infections have been ruled out, shifting suspicions towards environmental stressors like pollution and climate change. For instance, a marine heatwave in the northeastern Pacific between 2013 and 2015 disrupted seals’ feeding patterns. In Australia, fur seals with alopecia might be experiencing hormonal disruptions from pollutants. These outbreaks might signify a broader environmental impact on oceanic ecosystems. (Nautilus)

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

WORDS: The Biology Guy.

IMAGE CREDIT: Tara Winstead.

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